Caesar never could understand why people jumped up immediately when the captain turned off the seatbelt sign at the gate. He watched an elderly couple frantically pull at their bags in the overhead bin, crowding the aisle with other passengers. No one’s going anywhere fast, he thought. They should take their time and file out nicely: front to back. Above him a child drooled on his mother’s shoulder and then lunged at him, laughing. Caesar attempted an understanding smile but only got a nervous glance from the young mother.
After deplaning and finding his car in a parking lot alongside Hartsfield airport, he checked all the gear provided by his employer: I.D., Walther P22 with silencer, room key and beret. He stared at the beret. Though it matched his dark blue suit, he decided not to wear it, feeling safe in his disguise—thick salt-and-pepper mustache and an uninspiring gray wig that made him look like the old man he was. Of average height, barrel-chested with thick arms, Caesar’s large chin gave his meaty face a menacing look.
In his suit and golf shirt Caesar climbed the steps to a side entrance of the Concourse Hotel. He waded through a swarm of teenage girls going to their rooms and allowed them to board the first two elevators before taking the next one with a handful of businessmen, flushed with drinks and dinner, not paying any attention to the old Italian guy in a dark suit. On the twelfth floor he got out and found the room and shoved the plastic key into the slot. No cleaning ladies were nearby and he saw only one hotel guest, across the atrium, leaving his room at the same time Caesar opened the door.
The hotel kept an electronic record of entry and exit for each room and would know someone had entered the room before the guest did. But with cameras only at the front lobby, there would be no other record of Caesar’s visit.
He slipped on thin leather gloves, took out the gun from a holster at the back of his pants and began to check out the room. He had been surprised twice in his life: once by another contract killer and the second time by a teenager hoping to rob the next guest. He had dispatched both.
After checking under the bed, the closet and bathroom, Caesar made sure the door to the adjoining room was locked. Except for sunlight filling the crack between slightly-parted drapes, the room edged into dusk. Caesar noticed a bulge in the drape at end of the wall and raised the gun, stopping next to the TV that sat on a long dresser. Minutes passed and Caesar eyed the fabric with feline diligence, frozen before pouncing. Noiselessly he approached the curtain and jammed the gun into the largest bulge ready to shoot.
Nothing happened. Caesar withdrew the gun and jammed into another spot and then flung the curtain back. Leaning against the wall was a long decorative pillow that someone had left there when the drapes were open. He laid it across the bed in front of the pillows and holstered the gun. He was tempted to turn on the TV and stare at the picture with the sound muted but decided not to. The time would have to be passed remaining alert and still. His pager would buzz ten minutes before the client’s appearance, notifying Caesar to take his station behind the bathroom door. It was his experience that people who were paranoid first looked under the bed before checking behind the drapes, the closet, and usually the bathroom last. They might flick on the lights but it was rare for a client to check the shower first. And out of courtesy, the bellmen never entered the bathroom, restricting their services to laying a suitcase on the bed or hanging up a garment bag in the closet.
Caesar tried the view of the bathroom door with the lights on, and then off. Even with the lights on he’d be invisible from the short hallway. He reminded himself not to slide home the dead bolt like he did on vacation. Once while waiting for a client, he realized he had locked the door from the inside only minutes before the key slid into the lock. Today, that made him smile.
A professional killer for decades, Caesar enjoyed the intangible benefits of his job: the mark helpless, slipping away from life, the uncomprehending look devoid of aggression and arrogance and history. The mark never again would grasp the most rudimentary idea, remember a fond or fearful moment or accomplishments. If he had to hold the dying person and gently lower him to the floor so as not make a lot of noise, it was like giving birth, bringing a new soul to death’s door.
He hadn’t seen this client in years and had asked for current photos that he committed to memory and then destroyed. Randall Hershey had a mug that was easy to hate: long gray face, too-intelligent eyes and height, six-four. Although Caesar expected him to have shrunk—everyone shrinks when they get older, his mentor Little Tony had told him one time too often—Caesar expected Hershey still to tower over him. Remember the basics—don’t get emotional, clean up afterwards, Caesar told himself.
Back in the seventies when Caesar became a made man, Little Tony had discovered Caesar’s shame: his height, five-foot-eight. Tony conceded that this was considered average, but quickly reminded him that it was also the dividing line between short and average. Caesar shot back it was also the dividing line between average and tall. Unperturbed, Little Tony warned Caesar that by sixty he’d be lucky to hold five-six.
Now Caesar relaxed on the floor, legs straight out, his back against the bed facing the window. He noticed dust particles climbing the column of sunlight and tried following a single one, lost track, and then caught sight of another one in a half-ass spiral upward. He noticed many things about the climbing particles, one being their useless drift toward ‘heaven’ which was no more than a smear of light on glass. His thoughts grew more random as he started to doze off.
There was a two-beat click followed by a “Goddamn” that startled Caesar awake. Cracking stiff joints, wanting to curse the useless pager, he scrambled from the floor expecting the door to swing open. The door handle rattled a few times and then he heard another voice assisting the befuddled guest. Caesar quietly moved to his spot behind the bathroom door. He was just sliding his feet apart for balance, pulling the gun out, when the door opened.
“Friggin’ unbelievable,” Hershey lamented. “These damn electronic keys are worthless.”
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir,” the bellman apologized. “Your key works like this—
“Forget it. I’m in. Here’s your tip.”
Through the door crack Hershey filled Caesar’s field of vision: tall, long gray face, white hair, and still growling as he threw his suitcase on the bed. Hershey went to the phone without touching the drapes or any lights except the one on the desk where the phone sat and dialed an outside line.
Caesar drew slow quiet breaths as Hershey’s frustration dissolved, talking to someone—female? His smoothness was as finely honed as his roughness, a lawyer who could play good-cop-bad-cop all by his lonesome. A thought flared in Caesar’s brain— this guy’s influence upon the world was soon ending.
Hershey hadn’t taken off his coat, making him larger and more formidable as he charged into the bathroom and hit the light, not to confront Caesar, but to wash his hands, all the while mumbling about a thousand germs that threatened him. Caesar stepped to the left from behind the door shoved the gun against Hershey’s massive skull and fired two rounds. Hershey had started to turn, surprised, yet never reaching the fear or anger stage.
The second round had entered a few inches right of the first red wound, giving Hershey the proverbial eyes in the back of the head. The two muffled pops were drowned out by the running water. His head struck the sink and he collapsed backward. Using one gloved hand Caesar broke Hershey’s fall.
Caesar stood calmly above his prey examining the slumped corpse against the door: both eyes open and water dripping from his face to his shirt. No obvious exit wounds meant that the full force of each hollow-point bullet had made scrambled eggs of Hershey’s brains. With the water still running, Caesar took the opportunity to anoint his charge with a third eye—a bullet slightly above the eyebrow line, middle of the forehead. A perfect red hole seeped blood.
All Caesar’s moves were slow and deliberate due to professionalism and arthritis: stepping over the body, turning off the water, making sure he didn’t leave footprints. He examined his clothes for any signs of blood.
He listened for activity outside the door and then opened it, making his way to the elevator and then to his car. He drove to another hotel nearby and left the car and kept the gun that he’d personally dispose of. Still in disguise, he hailed a cab and rode to the general aviation terminal for private aircraft.
Later, on the chartered flight back to West Palm Beach, Caesar stomped the floor, angry that he had allowed his pager battery to go dead. The co-pilot turned in his seat and Caesar yelled, “Drive the damn plane.”
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